Swimmers around the country are squeezing in their final training ahead of the Olympic trials later this month. For many, the dream of making the U.S. swim team has been what gets them out of bed for a pre-dawn practice. But at least on the men’s side of the pool, the superstars of swimming leave little room for anyone else.
Dakota Hodgson of Nashville is one of those Olympian hopefuls. Charlie Hodgson, his gray-haired father, coaches him at the Nashville Sportsplex. As “‘Kot” practices, Charlie speed-walks to keep up, stopwatch in hand.
Dakota makes the butterfly look much easier than the complicated stroke it is, arms swinging in tandem like pieces of machinery, coordinated with an undulating kick that rolls from his chest to the tip of his toes.
For the 20-year-old, the Olympics have always been the goal, says Charlie, who helped coach the 1984 team. Dakota has been training full-time since leaving the Auburn University swim team in 2010. But even as a kid, Charlie says his son showed promise.
“He just had this special ability to really race well, keep his composure,” he says. “And nobody can beat him on the last part of a race.”
“I just get another adrenaline rush,” Dakota Hodgson says. “I have another gear to go into, and I just go for it.”
Taking on the Best
Over the decades, John Morse has sent more than 40 swimmers from the Nashville Aquatic Club to Olympic qualifying meets. Most recently, however, the long-shot odds have only gotten longer for his male swimmers.
“You got Ryan Lochte and you got Michael Phelps, and they’re arguably the two best swimmers in the world,” Morse says. “They’re very versatile and swim all kinds of events, but they take up a large number of slots on that Olympic team.”
Each event has just two openings, and Dakota Hodgson has put all his eggs in one basket: the 200 meter butterfly, an event in which Michael Phelps has broken the world record multiple times over the last decade.
“So, that’s nice,” Hodgson says. “So in the 200 butterfly there is just one spot, essentially.”
Playing for Second
Hodgson had the privilege of racing the world record holder for the first time earlier this year. Commentators gushed about Phelps’ performance as he finished four seconds ahead of Hodgson, who placed third.
The odds remain against Hodgson at the trials, who is realistically going for number two. Even second will take the race of his life and more.
As Hodgson finishes a recent training swim, his dad reminds him there’s more work to do before the trials. He still needs to shave four seconds off his time to be competitive.
But if this isn’t Hodgson’s year, everyone’s odds are set to double in 2016, when the giant wake of Michael Phelps is expected to have left the pool.